Wisconsin Dells Indoor Waterparks for Kids in Winter

by on November 18th, 2010
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When my wife scheduled a family vacation for us in the Wisconsin Dells, I was excited. I had never been to Wisconsin before, and I had heard from several friends that it’s a fun place.

Then she revealed that our trip was in the middle of December.

What?! Who vacations in Wisconsin in December?!

As it turns out, though, we had an absolute blast there, spending every day of our trip in a different indoor water park.

One big draw of visiting the Wisconsin Dells in the winter is that it’s not nearly as crowded as I hear is the case during the summer months. Granted, many outdoor activities are closed for the winter, such as zip lines and roller coasters and such, but since our daughters, Olivia and June, are 5 and 4 years old respectively, that wasn’t an issue for us.

We stayed at the Glacier Canyon Lodge and had access to the other properties owned by the same corporation. Here are the indoor water parks we visited within those properties, in order of our preference, from least favorite to favorite.

Wild West

Wild West is located in the Wild West Region of the Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, which is attached to Glacier Canyon, so we were able to walk entirely indoors from our hotel room to the park. While it features tube slides and a huge four-story play area that’s billed as the largest of its kind in the country, we didn’t stay long. The reason for that? It was freezing inside once we got wet.

Part of it may have been the result of a hot tub that allowed access to the outdoors, but it felt like they had the air conditioning on inside the water park, too, because I could feel air blowing on me no matter where I stood. It was so uncomfortably cold that our girls were shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering, and didn’t want to get back into the water, which was also cold. We left very shortly after we arrived.

It’s probably not an issue in the summer, but it was a big issue for us in the winter.

Klondike Kavern

Klondike Kavern is located in the New Frontier Region of the Wilderness Hotel. This water park features a number of water slides, as well as a lazy river that encircles the park. Every morning, Klondike Kavern hosted the Ken-Ducky Derby duck races, which Olivia and June loved, in the lazy river before opening the park. Our girls passed on the slides, but they did enjoy the numerous ways to get sprayed by water, including a big bucket that periodically dumps 750 gallons of water on whoever is standing below it. (Don’t worry, a diffuser prevents the force of the water from causing injury, and a bell rings for several seconds before the bucket dumps, so unwilling participants can clear out.)

There is also a hot tub there, which allows patrons to sit indoors or outdoors. Since it was about 20 degrees outside while we were there, we wonder if that option was the cause of our main complaint about Klondike Kavern: it, too, was cold inside. It wasn’t as bad as the Wild West, but it was still uncomfortably cold once we got wet, which frequently sent our girls (and us) scurrying back to the table to wrap up in a towel for warmth.

Wild WaterDome

The Wild WaterDome is attached to Klondike Kavern. Advertised as the largest indoor wave pool in the nation, the 14,500-square-foot area of the park can generate up to five-foot waves. About every 15 minutes or so, they fire up the wave-maker after giving a loud audible signal. The waves generally last about five minutes. The water gradually goes from zero depth to several feet deep, with the waves being the choppiest in deeper waters and just lapping at your feet closer to shore.

Our girls loved the wave pool–in appropriately shallow depths or while hanging on to one of us, of course–as well as the 2,200-square-foot zero-depth play area for young kids.

Bring the sunscreen, though! A unique feature of this indoor water park is that the roof allows ultraviolet rays in from the sunshine, giving you the warmth and tanning–or burning!–capabilities of summer, even in the middle of winter.

Cubby’s Cove

Cubby’s Cove, located in the Wilderness on the Lake hotel, requires a short drive (maybe five minutes, if that) or a ride on the free shuttle from the Glacier Canyon and Wilderness hotels, but it was well worth it. It was far and away our favorite water park. Keep in mind that Olivia and June are 5 and 4 years old, so older kids would likely be bored out of their gourds there, but if you have young ones like ours, I highly recommend Cubby’s Cove.

It’s a simple place, but it’s perfect for little kids. It has a play structure that sprays kids without going overboard, and there are two or three small water slides that our girls loved. Water went from zero depth to no more than a foot, if that, in depth in the play area.

There is also a deeper pool, maybe four or five feet deep at most since I could stand on the bottom everywhere, with several basketball hoops and water basketballs. There’s a jacuzzi-style portion of the pool where jets create lots of bubbles, as well as some climbing activities in a different area for slightly bigger kids.

There’s a hot tub for adults and older kids (no one under the age of 6 is allowed in a hot tub by Wisconsin law) that allows indoor or outdoor seating, but it’s far enough away from the rest of the water park that it’s plenty warm inside the facility, even once you’re wet.

We also liked Cubby’s Cove because, by its design, it was only populated with kids that were Olivia’s and June’s age and size, so they weren’t subjected to getting run over by the naturally more-rambunctious older kids. We went to Cubby’s Cove on our first day there, and we returned on our last day after getting frozen out of Wild West because we liked it so much.

So if your wife schedules a family vacation for you in the Wisconsin Dells in the middle of winter, it’s not as crazy an idea as you might initially think. The multitude of indoor water parks in the Dells can be a lot of fun, even when it’s cold outside.

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